Can we forgive without being asked?

Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors.

It is difficult to forgive people when we don’t feel like forgiving.

     -Perhaps the wrong is just too big,

     -Our hurt is simply too large and raw, or

     -The person will let us down again anyway.

Though all of these thoughts and feelings are normal and valid, Jesus asks us to forgive.

How do we gain the willingness to forgive?

I think part of the answer lies in realizing the miracle of our own forgiveness. Sure, we can know in our heads we are forgiven, but truth is, we often aren’t “wowed” by that fact on most days. (I am speaking for myself here, too.) We can even think we deserve to be forgiven, and we can think others require more forgiveness than we do.

Somehow we lose sight of the miracle.

Matthew 18:21-35 tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. A master forgives his servant of a debt that is impossible to pay after the servant begs for mercy, then the servant turns around and does not forgive the debt of someone who owes him about three months worth of common wages, who has also begged for mercy. 

The master wasn’t happy.

What an affront to God – who forgave us of everything through His Son when we asked for forgiveness, –  when we turn around and don’t extend forgiveness to those who ask it from us.

I recently learned…

there are some bible believing, mature Christians who believe we do not have to forgive those who do not first ask forgiveness from us. I had not known this line of thinking was so prevalent and have since learned it is gaining traction. I now have a responsibility to think this through.

Am I seeing something incorrectly?

I might be! So far, this is where I am on the issue.

The thinking is partially rooted in the parable of the unforgiving servant because it is only after the servant begged for mercy that he received forgiveness from the master. The person who owed the forgiven servant money was not granted forgiveness after he too begged for mercy. I agree, this is the point of the parable — we are to respond in forgiveness when someone asks or begs for our forgiveness.

But I also see a potential loophole…

If I don’t want to extend forgiveness to someone, there are ways to manipulate a relationship to make it less likely or more difficult for the person to ask my forgiveness.

  • I can stay distant and not initiate any conversations or get-togethers.
  • I don’t tell the person I am eager to forgive him or her.
  • When forced to interact, I skillfully skirt the hurtful issue so it never comes up.

Behaving in this manner can make me feel like I am “off the hook.” I don’t need to forgive them because they didn’t ask, which suits me fine because I didn’t want to forgive them anyway.

How can I tell if I have a forgiving heart?

To me, one test of my willingness to forgive someone who has not yet asked is this question: If the person who hurt you asks your forgiveness tomorrow, would you forgive them?

I could say, No.

If so, I do not have a heart of forgiveness.

I could say, I am not ready yet.

I may be confusing forgiveness with feelings. In her book, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, Lisa TerKeurst says, Whatever my feelings will not yet allow, the blood of Jesus will surely cover. 

I may also be extremely traumatized and need a minute to process the event first. I hope if this is me one day, people give me some time to forgive someone who committed a crime against me, for example. I also hope that from the start, my goal would be forgiveness. I hope to utter sentences like, “After I figure out what even happened, the Lord will allow me to forgive, I am sure,” or “I don’t know how to forgive this, but I am seeking the Lord with all of my heart and asking me to show me how. I know He will.”

I could say, Absolutely, I will forgive them.

In my mind, this reflects a forgiving heart most clearly. Since I forgive people every day for things I am not asked to forgive, I am not yet persuaded that I can only extend forgiveness when asked. I tell family and friends they never need to worry about coming to me to confess a wrong because they are forgiven already. I have always considered this a reflection of, Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors. The master in the parable may have had a forgiving heart prior to being asked, thus the forgiveness was granted. 

I do not know what future offenses I will be asked to forgive, but by the grace of God, I have determined in advance to extend the same forgiveness God extended to me. The person may go to jail for what they have done to me or someone I love, boundaries may be established in the relationship, or I may offer forgiveness while sobbing, but I trust God grants me the ability to forgive. I don’t want to live with a bitter, angry spirit that will spread to all people I know, not just that one.


It all goes back to the fact that God has forgiven me an impossible debt. The unforgiving servant owed the master a debt so large it would never be paid in his lifetime. Same with me. I owed an impossible debt of death and Jesus offered His death as a replacement for mine.

It’s a wonder!

If my heart is poised to forgive anyone who asks and people are already forgiven before they ask, then asking forgiveness from me is almost nothing more than a formality. The formality still has to occur so all involved can experience certain forgiveness, closure and some balm for hurting hearts, but a formality it remains.

I will let God change me.

This is where I stand on this issue so far, along with my support. I will continue to hear those who think otherwise and invite people to initiative conversations or post comments to continue the conversation. May God lead me to clear understanding because I want nothing more than to reflect His nature to a watching world.

Picture Explanation: A neighbor and I went to see 200 million daffodils in bloom. At least that is what the sign said. We were a little early. The temperatures are still too nippy. I plan to go back.

Imagine when all of them open up! May our hearts also open up to extend forgiveness to all who ask, and maybe even to those who do not.

© 2021 by Oaks Ministries. All rights reserved.



4 Responses

  1. I am with you on this Laurie! Can we have an unforgiving heart or can we choose not to forgive when it hasn’t been asked of us and still love that person; that I John kind of love?
    1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
    There is also the instruction for communion, if you have something against a brother, go and reconcile it before you take the elements
    Matthew 6:14-15 if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you.
    I think this is a heart matter, and the Lord sees our hearts clearly. Waiting for someone to ask forgiveness seems like a dangerous position to take since it speaks to our own eternity.

    1. Thank you for the verses. They are great. I do want to maintain awareness of how complex people’s wounds can be, adding in where each person is spiritually, emotionally, etc. This isn’t easy. The bible verses can guide us, but I am still trying to learn. Not sure I see clearly yet.

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I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes growth.

1 Corinthians 3:6

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